Andrews campaigns in Lautenberg country with Adubato

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NEWARK – U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D-1) today said he has so far heard no response from the campaign of Sen. Frank Lautenberg in response to his seven-debate challenge.

"I don’t think he has an obligation to me," said Andrews. "I think he has an obligation to the people of the state to do that, so we can have a real test of ideas and so we can see what people want to do."

In a county where his North Jersey-born rival enjoys a regional advantage, Andrews visited Newark today to speak to a crowd that included state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark), Assemblywoman Valerie Vaineri Huttle (D-Bergen), North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos, At-Large Councilman Luis Quintana, At-Large Councilman Carlos Gonzalez, and North Ward Democratic leader Steve Adubato, Sr.

"We’re going to be up here a lot," said Andrews of his campaign, shortly before he was brought to the podium by Ramos to serve as the keynoter on the occasion of the 31st annual luncheon of Aspira Inc. of New Jersey, a chapter of a nationwide educational organization for young Latinos.

"He supported me personally when I ran for council," said Ramos, "and I’m very excited to stand here not only introducing Congressman Andrews but also endorsing him wholeheartedly."

Ruiz today reiterated her decision to stay neutral in the Lautenberg-Andrews fight.

Quintana shrugged.

"What’s in it for me?" he said. "Lautenberg’s always been good to me, he’s done a good job. I just need to know more at this point."

Huttle said she’s with Lautenberg.

"When Torricelli went down, he stepped up in a big way," she said of the senator.

Andrews, who last week shocked the state’s Democratic Party establishment when he announced his challenge of Lautenberg in the Democratic primary, said he plans to hold multiple town hall meetings in northern New Jersey for the next few weeks leading up to the June 3rd primary.

Appearing on stage today to speak in between several rousing Latino dance numbers, Andrews praised Aspira, Inc. and its young members, in the process descrying what he described as the Bush administration’s "failed diplomacy of the past six years."

"Somewhere in this room, there’s a diplomat who wants to make peace with our neighbors instead of making fun of our neighbors," he said to applause from roughly 200 people.

Adubato and his allies at two circular tables in the front of the large ballroom at the Holiday Inn gave Andrews a standing ovation.

"It’s enthusiasm for Frank, sure, not the fact that they all want the old man’s job," the North Ward Democratic leader cracked in response to a question about the united front of the six Democratic members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation in favor of the 84-year old Lautenberg.

"This is a guy who said Millicent was too old at 72," said the Democratic Party power player, a reference to Lautenberg’s questioning of his Republican opponent’s age in their 1982 tilt for the U.S. Senate, which Lautenberg won.

Regarding U.S. Rep. Donald Payne’s pointed criticism this week not only of Andrews’s 2002 "aye" vote on the War in Iraq, but his role as an architect of the resolution authorizing Bush to go to war, Adubato said, "There have been a lot of mistakes in the Middle East, but no American has come up with a solution. It’s not just politics over there, it’s religion."

Asked about how Andrews can bridge the state’s north/south divide, Adubato said, "You know, the biggest conflict in the history of this country was the Civil War. There were more American casualties in that war than in any of our other wars. I say, let the north and south live in peace."

Andrews said he plans to officially kick off his campaign on Monday in Camden.

"But we’re going to be having events between now and then," he said.

Andrews campaigns in Lautenberg country with Adubato